Beyond the Ballot: Voting Rights

Saturday, Dec 5, 2020
by Sabrina Fay ’22, Pace Center Student Correspondents

Beyond the Ballot highlights actions that the Princeton community is taking to address issues they care about, as well as ways people are becoming more informed on these issues. We recently spoke with Joseph Shipley, a junior concentrating in history who is involved with Vote100 as a fellow.

Joseph Shipley '22 is very passionate about voting rights, and so felt very lucky to be able to be a part of Vote100 over the summer and aid in their “Get Out the Vote” campaign. “I think we all have a tendency to forget how sacred and rare the right to vote in a free and fair election is,” he said. “But the right to vote is also very easy to erode. Because of felon disenfranchisement laws, voter ID laws, and general underinvestment in our voting system, it's harder to vote in the United States than in most other democracies. We need to change that,” he acknowledges, saying these potential barriers to voting are exactly what makes it so important that people try to stay informed and vote when and where they can. 

The way he and Vote100 work to make voting more accessible is through youth engagement and getting as many people at Princeton University and beyond to exercise their civic voice as possible. To that end, individual outreach was a huge part of Shipley’s work. He found himself texting and working with students he’d never met before, and was awed by the positive reception and willingness of people to get involved and make a plan to vote. 

“Vote100 is run by students, for students,” he emphasized. “This isn't the administration telling people how to act or who to vote for – it's meant to be a peer-driven effort where students motivate one another to vote. We know how difficult it is to vote while being a full-time student and how easy it is to forget about this civic duty; we're just trying to make it a little easier for people to stay engaged and active.”

The pandemic made things harder, of course, but also easier in some ways. As voting rules in each state were constantly changing, he and the other fellows had to keep continually up to date in order to be able to inform others and provide guidance. But with the semester and all activities being online, they also had a somewhat “captive audience” in that they could advertise to students through the online channels they frequented to keep up with remote learning, like University updates and emails, as well as of course social media and recruited Vote100 Ambassadors. Though especially proud of the individual outreach, Shipley says he was happy to see the levels of engagement as high as they were amongst students. And moving forward, he hopes to see even more. “Until voting becomes synonymous with being a Princetonian, there's always more work to do,” he said. “Vote100 isn't going away just because the election is over. Our goal over the next few months (and years) is to make Vote100 self-perpetuating – something that every student contributes to in their own way… we really want every student to feel like they're a part of Vote100's efforts.”

What’s ultimately most important though, says Shipley, is speaking up whenever you can. “Beyond voting, just make sure that if there's an issue that you care about you're never silent,” he said. “In whatever form you break the silence, whether it's by protesting, writing a letter to your representatives, or starting a petition for change, just don't stop.” By maintaining this attitude and sharing it enthusiastically with others, he hopes to see greater political engagement and positive change in the years to come.